It is estimated that there are almost 400 million privately owned guns in the United States of America. That’s the equivalent of more than one weapon for every American. Whilst a small percentage owns a disproportionate amount, most are bought as a means of self-defence; wrongheaded as that may be. Others choose to take up a martial-art. About 18 million. The most popular form is karate and that’s the subject of Riley Stearns’ new film The Art of Self-Defence.

Casey (Jesse Eisenberg) is an unassuming accountant who lives with his dachshund and likes (the idea of) French things. His attempts to make friends at work continually backfire. One night he’s beaten and mugged by a gang. As his anxiety reaches record levels, and faced with a wait to purchase a firearm, Casey decides to take up a martial art to protect himself. Under the watchful eye of the Sensei (Alessandro Nivola) he slowly begins to build up confidence, as well as an attraction to one of the teachers (Imogen Poots). However, events soon take a dark turn when defence becomes attack.

The Art of Self-Defence is a darkly comedic and bitingly irreverent take on toxic masculinity and modern American culture. Whilst Stearns’ film starts out as a dry oddball comedy it soon takes a much more dangerous direction. There are some great lines, clever social satire and a transfixing central performance from Eisenberg. The Art of Self-Defence defies expectation and lands its punches squarely on the jaw.

The Art of Self-Defence screened at Fantasia Festival 2019.